Hello everyone. I’m Alex, and this is my personal and professional website. I am a new face in the TV writing industry, but I have huge ambition, and I am determined to become known in the industry as a creator of the highest quality programmes. The aim of this website is basically to get my name out there and show the world what I can do.
I would like to begin with the story of how I started screenwriting.
May 6th. An innocent spring day. The bees were buzzing. The birds were singing. The chavs were listening to Tinchy Stryder on the street corners. Nothing special. But, for me, it symbolised the most significant time of my life so far. Because this was the day I would step inside BBC Broadcasting House for the first time
Lets start from the beginning. One evening in the summer of 2012, I was really bored. I’d walked the dog, watched my numerous boxsets a gazillion times, and won the Champions League with Yeovil Town on Fifa 11. Ah, such a nostalgic football game. When Fernando Torres was good. But, fresh from these, ahem, achievements, I wanted to do something BIG. Something people would notice. Something people would remember.
It is worth noting that, around this time, I had recently been to hospital with a bad case of depression. I felt like nothing. The worst thing in the world. YOU ARE A FREAK. NO ONE CARES ABOUT YOU. THINGS WOULD BE BETTER IF YOU WERE DEAD. My demons filled my head. I listened to them. And I believed them. All my life I had felt isolated from the world. Like I was a floppy disk trying to get into an iPad. To see good things happen to everyone, people with confidence and ‘normality’, while I sat in a corner, too crippled by my Aspergers to do anything about it. It’s hard to put into words how frustrating this was. And it culminated on this summers day, when I stood on the edge of a platform at the train station, and waited. I honestly believe I was seconds away from death. But something suddenly clicked in my head, as if a jug of ice-cold water had enveloped my face.
I was NOT going to end like this. My inner self took a starkly different voice, and said ‘If you die, right here, right now, that will be the end of you. There will be nothing left of you in the world. What legacy would you be leaving? One of despair and depression? Fuck that. Be spectacular. Live’.
I turned round, and trudged home. That would be the beginning of the new me. Marshall 2.0.
Back to that boring summers evening. I remembered that I was still alive because I realised, down at the train station, that I was capable of achieving something brilliant, and leave a legacy to inspire generations. I’d seen a lot in my 21 years. Plus, my Asperger Syndrome gave me a completely alternative voice. A voice that had the potential to be shared. This motivated me. I honed my ability to write, something which I’d been practicing religiously since I was 9 years old. The end result?
The first ever draft of Screwloose. Due to my limited blogging software, you probably have no idea what the first page says. It could say ‘Fifty Shades of Grey – The Uncut Version by Alex Marshall’. Unfortunately, it does not.
A tale of a young man with Asperger Syndrome who leaves home for the first time. It is, indeed, semi-autobiographical, but there are so many surreal and ridiculous elements in the story, particularly involving stop-motion animation, which make it look like I was under the influence of magic mushrooms while at the keyboard. However, as you will soon understand, I can’t publically go into too much detail about the plot. Use your imagination. Tee hee.
In a nutshell, I don’t really know what Screwloose is. Some call it a sitcom. Others call it a comedy drama. In reality, it’s hard to put a label on it. All I CAN say, is that it is mine. My own labour of love. Four weeks it took to write. 60 days where I had to squeeze writing time between work and study. The problem with creative writing is that you can’t just ‘turn on’ creativity. Imagination is not on tap. You need to feel the script. Whatever that means. You need to delve your mind into the world of your story and map out EVERY detail. Naïve cynics say that a screenplay is a poor man’s novel, because ‘all the screenwriter has to do is write the dialogue’. Bullshit. The main prerogative for screenwriters, or at least myself, is the narrative. Emphasis HAS to be on where the story’s going. Yes, authors do that to, but at least they get to flesh their piece out with lengthy descriptions. I like to think of screenplays as ‘the novel’s skeleton’. Everything is much more defined, and put under much more scrutiny. Because screenplays tend to have a fast pace, one mistake with the narrative and boom, you could have a film doomed for the bargain bucket.
Excuse me for going on a tangent about screenplay philosophy. The point is, I worked bloody hard on Screwloose. Immersed myself in it. An escape from my demons, perhaps. Or a remedy? All I know is that since I started writing it, I’ve felt much better about myself. The stereotype goes that when someone’s depressed from a break-up, they buy a million cats. If that is true, then Screwloose was my cat, and I loved it very much.
So yeah. I wrote a screenplay, which is a pretty good achievement in itself. But what was to follow BLEW MY MIND. And changed my life forever.
Screwloose had always been a bit of fun. Perhaps a therapy session in a way. And I thought that would be that. Nothing else. But I realised that Screwloose has a pretty decent message. That someone with Asperger Syndrome is not worthless at all. They can make a massive difference to the world. And I felt this voice deserved to be heard. An estimated 70 million sufferers in the world. It HAD to be heard. Imagine the global potential I could tap. So I got to work. I started emailing production companies. It isn’t hard to do. If you look in the right places on the internet you can actually find lists of the best or most accommodating producers. Me? I use the scatter-gun approach. Send. Send. Send. Send.
I think I must have emailed well over a hundred producers. It’s a bit like an online Dragons Den. You pitch your idea, and if a producer’s interested, they’ll request a copy of your script. If not, then no reply at all. ‘I’m out’. And I got a lot of those.
Then, something happened.
A couple of months later, while I was on my lunch break at work, my phone dinged. It was Claire, executive producer at What Larks Productions, a small London-based company. She absolutely loved Screwloose, and had received interest from the BBC. When I read this, I screamed at the top of my voice like a rabid Belieber. This was fantastic. To get my first real screenplay noticed by a professional was completely unreal, and I still struggle to believe it. You hear so many stories of burnt-out writers who churn out dozens of scripts a year but they don’t go anywhere, so to get recognition as early as I did was an achievement in itself. But these were still early days. There was still work to be done.
I stayed in close contact with Claire, and continue to do so. She advised me to do some redrafts. These could range from minor spelling corrections to full-scale scene overhauls. One thing was certain, though – it was the done thing, in any script. You could be Ricky Gervais, or a 21 year old from Terling, like me. Doesn’t matter who you are, your script will ALWAYS need to be changed. It can be annoying, because your script is your baby, and in an ideal world you wouldn’t want to change a thing. The key is to bite the bullet and get on with it, as you should be grateful for getting any breakthrough at all. New screenwriters should never have an ego. But Claire has been wonderful. She makes sure I am doing okay with the redrafts, asks about my day, and ensures that the whole Screwloose experience does not stress me out too much. It is a pleasure to work with her.
Meetings became the norm. My first one was with Claire and Morwenna Banks. If you don’t know who Morwenna is, she is a vastly talented comedy writer and actress, and has worked on Absolutely, Skins, The Thick of It, Armstrong and Miller, Harry and Paul and, err, she also played Mummy Pig in the children’s programme Peppa Pig. She is also married to the insanely hilarious comedian David Baddiel. So, for a particularly knowledgeable and passionate comedy fan such as myself, meeting her was the coolest thing ever. It was the first time I had met a celebrity – and it was on business! More importantly, it was the very first time I genuinely believed Screwloose could make it. That my screenplay could actually be on television. Me, Claire and Morwenna spent a whole afternoon making edits to various scenes and discussing ideas, while at the same time I was trying my very best not to ask Morwenna for an autograph. This was, after all, a business meeting. (It still sounds cool)
Screwloose – the copyrighted edition. Shows just how much faith Claire has in my work. The written contents of my mind are copyrighted. That is so awesome, it’s almost nauseating.
The BBC also regularly kept me in the loop. Not directly, but through Claire. They eventually said what they thought of Screwloose with, as expected, positive and negative criticism. Nevertheless, this was a crucial stage, where they could have just said ‘Nah, don’t like this. Next!’ But they didn’t. They still had faith. But they still felt Screwloose needed some work, so they advised me to get a writing partner, particularly a seasoned comedy writer. I was in screenwriters heaven. Anyone you like, they said. Wow. Before Claire had even finished writing down her suggestions, I had already crafted a lengthy shopping list of writing talent. Some examples were outrageously ambitious. I suppose I was acting like a right diva. But I ate a Snickers and chose what turned out to be the best option. Georgia Pritchett – writer of Quick Cuts, The Thick of It, My Family and Veep. A vastly experienced and respected figure in the profession, and she agreed to work with me, for free! It was a tremendous honour.
And that brings us to May 6th at BBC Broadcasting House. The best day of my life so far. The BBC wanted to meet me, Claire and Georgia to discuss the next step for Screwloose. We were kind of certain that it wasn’t close to being commissioned yet – too much work needed to be done. But the day still symbolised how far it had come. To be summoned to the mecca of the TV shows I’d lived with, such as Doctor Who, Only Fools and Horses and Top Gear, is something that will stay with me forever. The building itself is vast. So many rooms, the most notable being the huge newsroom. There’s a café with a glass screen, so you can see right into the live newsroom. So if you watched BBC News about a month ago and saw a big bellend in the far corner of the screen, chances are it was me.
The TARDIS is literally as soon as you enter the building. Being the biggest Whovian you have ever seen, my life is now complete. This photo took ages to upload. Understandable, considering all of space and time is in it.
The meeting with the BBC Comedy Commissioning Editor was great. In the room was a large cabinet chock full of BAFTAs. We pretty much discussed everything, ranging from my condition and how it affects my life, to what needs to be done with Screwloose now. I won’t go into too much detail, but it involves a pretty hefty redraft. Nothing too drastic, but it’s a challenge. In the Oxford Circus sushi bar after the meeting, I just went: ‘Wow’. This had many different connotations.
One’s a dangerous creature with the ability to destroy mankind. The other one’s a Dalek.
At the moment, I am waiting to see if Screwloose is getting commissioned. It is nerve-wracking, because should my show get on TV, the implications would be massive. My profile would be propelled into the stratosphere, but it’s not just that. People with Asperger Syndrome everywhere will watch a character on their television, a character similar to them, and feel empowered. They will feel better about themselves. They will realise that being themselves is okay. And knowing that I helped cause that. It would be wonderful.
My message to young people, old people, ‘normal’ people and people with Asperger Syndrome or depression is this: it is NEVER too late to be great. Do something absolutely mental with your life. You only have one shot to make a difference. I’ve stared death in the face and thought ‘Nah, not for me’ and done something which has made me incredibly proud. No one is worthless. I thought I was once. Boy, was I wrong.
Feel free to root around my website and check out my other exciting projects.